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Pakistan's Musharraf Explains Decision to Retain Military Uniform


Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, has formally declared that he will retain the army chief's post, breaking a public pledge that he will give up his uniform by the end of the year.

In a televised address to the nation, President Musharraf asserted that to give up his military uniform now would undermine Pakistan's political and economic stability.

The general said that he needs the powerful army post in the interests of Pakistan's peace process with neighboring India, the war on terrorism and economic progress.

"I have decided to retain both the offices," said Pervez Musharraf. [In my view] any change in the internal and external policies can be extremely dangerous for Pakistan."

The pro-Musharraf ruling party pushed a bill through parliament in November to allow the military leader to retain both portfolios until 2007, when new elections are due. Referring to that legislation, President Musharraf said the opposition must respect the majority decision.

"Therefore, I appeal to the opposition to accept the democratic verdict of the National Assembly and the Senate, and avoid undemocratic attitude," he said.

President Musharraf blamed an opposition alliance of Islamic parties in the parliament for his decision to go back on his pledge that he will quit the military by December 31, 2004. The

Pakistani leader made that promise to muster support for his controversial constitutional amendments that gave him sweeping powers.

But Mr. Musharraf says that lawmakers of the opposition Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal party, the MMA, have not kept their promise to avoid what he called politics of confrontation.

The MMA and other political parties have strongly criticized President Musharraf for breaking his promise. A senior Islamic leader and member of Parliament, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, says opposition parties will jointly observe New Year's day as a "black day" against Mr. Musharraf's decision, and will hold protest demonstrations across Pakistan.

"He will no longer be accepted as the legitimate president, or the legitimate chief of army staff of Pakistan," he said. "He is a usurper, and we will treat him as a usurper."

Raza Rabbani is a senior leader of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's opposition party. He also has dismissed President Musharraf's explanation for keeping two portfolios.

"The circumstances, which he narrated, which are necessitating his retaining the uniform, would lead one to believe that, today, Pakistan is perhaps politically and internally a very de-stabilized society," he said.

Opposition parties accuse President Musharraf of acting like a dictator. They have organized some major protest rallies, but with little impact on the wider public.

The military leader also has faced little criticism from the West for not fully transferring powers to the elected government, since holding elections two years ago. The United States and other nations view President Musharraf as an important ally in curbing Islamic extremism and global terrorism.